A confession of a lovelorn heart

Sometimes , I feel, the most difficult roles are enacted in situations where the actor knows the movie is built as a vehicle to focus on someone else and has to play his part, notwithstanding the natural desires of hogging the limelight himself.

Padosan, my eternal favourite movie, had such a situation. Sunil Dutt and Saira Banu were ostensibly the lead pair. But anyone who has seen the movie will tell you, the movie is all about the amazing acting duel between the two greatest comic actors of my time, Kishor Kumar and Mehmood Ali. Sunil Dutt and Saira Banu especially the former are so inconsequential to the storyline, it might have been anyone else without any impact on the overall outcome. At least Saira Banu is assigned the task of adding a dash of glamour, a bit of window dressing if you will. Sunil Dutt as Bhola is utterly wasted , poor guy, imagine a guy who could act (and has at times, too) being stuck with the same goofy expression throughout the movie from start to finish with little change. He looks the same when he is wooing Saira Banu and also when he beaten black and blue by the hired goons (thanks to the jealous suitor Mehmood, who has unbelievably put his hat in the ring and at times even manages to look to be the leader in the sweepstakes for Saira Banu’s amorous attention)

Padosan was coproduced by Mehmood himself along with N C Sippy and written by Rajendar Krishan , based on a Bangla story/ film called Pasher Bari, and had great music by R D Burman, which was undoubtedly the reason the movie was such a huge success. All songs from the movie were instant hits and are still remembered by all of us who have seen the movie at various (usually multiple) times through the five decades, in multiple formats. The Kishoreda- Manna Dey vocal duel “Ek Chatur Naar” is played out even today in the music based (Un)reality shows on TV channels in many languages, you will find wannabe stars of all ages and both genders try this perennial favourite every so many months. The songs truly achieved immortality.

The carefree notes that Kishoreda strikes from the very first “Kehna Hai” are truly sublime. No one else could bring this mood to the fore in Bollywood. Rafisaab was truly the most versatile in singing all types of songs, Mukesh saab king of soul (with Talat Mahmood being the undisputed Emperor of the Blues), but for songs of this genre, it had to be only Kishoreda, the far out maverick in Bollywood, amazingly an untrained singer who rules the genre. To think of the man being able to still give goosebumps by such songs to anyone who even hears the song for the first time, is amazing.

The denouement of the movie with Bhola’s (clearly faked) suicide/death and the bride-to-be Saira Banu who is clearly shocked by the nasty turn of events, who sheds tears by the bucketful, “wakes up” Bhola (back from the dead, and Saira Banu raised to the level of Savitri) and even Pillai the master dancer / musician happy at the turn of events is too hilarious. The movie ends with Saira Banu marrying Sunil Dutt, with Mehmood shown playing the Shehnai in the wedding with tears in his eyes.

To me the movie which will always remain about Kishore Kumar and Mehmood.

Have a great day folks and a wonderful week ahead. Stay safe, stay happy, and far away from the Wuhan Virus

Night fever

We were in Seth G S Medical College and studying for one of the undergraduate exams and the academic burden, was expectedly considerable. I feel the III MBBS examination was the toughest in my life as we were expected to know something about pretty much everything. As we went further in our journey, we were expected to know more about less till we could say we now knew everything about nothing….

In the student’s hostel, as many a overburdened and harried face emerged from their room, all looking equally toxic and bored, came out an intrepid soul into the lobby. He signalled to someone inside the room and we could hear a portable cassette player being turned on. The first notes wafted into the lobby and our man flint, now a famous Surgeon and a Professor of Surgery from our Alma Mater, who has been the President of the Association of Surgeons of India, Abhay Dalvi (easily the best mover and shaker in our class) emerged shaking off the stress, jiving to this immortal song.

It was a Saturday Night, fortuitously and the effect of the song was magical. An instant mood elevator!! Those of us with two left feet (me included) who couldn’t show off their nonexistent dancing prowess did not venture into the hostel corridor which had magically got transformed into a dance floor, stood around grinning and clapping and soaking in the music as well as the dancing by those who shook off the stress.

The movie I saw a little later in the Resident quarters where in the days before the satellite TV and Cable TV, we would hire a VCR and cassettes. I remember those days the rental of both would be around ₹150 for the evening, with the promise that it would have to be returned without fail on Sunday morning to take care of the customers waiting on Sunday. ₹150 sounds like nothing much today, but when I started my internship, my monthly salary for the privilege of working my butt off 24/7/365 (& I really did that to arm myself with the experience necessary for my life) was a princely ₹425. As house officers in the prestigious KEM Hospital when the salary increased from ₹550 to ₹650, a lot of us were genuinely happy.

The movie was based on a story “Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night” by Nik Cohn. This was made into a low budget movie with John Travolta and Karen Gorney in the lead. The brothers Gibb, Barry Maurice, and Robin gave the classic musical score that helped create a cult classic. Cohn was a newcomer to the US and was assigned the task of writing this article. He couldn’t really make head or tail of the disco lifestyle and actually fabricated the article that was published in New York magazine. Travolta was then a small actor known from his TV serial. The impact the movie had was truly unimaginable. It raked in nearly 100 times it’s production budget and introduced/popularized disco music and culture. The SNF soundtrack remains one of BeeGees’ largest selling albums of all time.

The movie showcased a carefree lifestyle with fun, music, dance, haute couture clothes styling, promiscuous behaviour and the urban subculture of the youth. A sequel Staying Alive, released a few years later bombed and was brutally scoured by the critics too. However Saturday Night Fever did its job. A star was born for sure, unfortunately the movie didn’t do the same to the ladies’ career graph.

That’s the way the cookie unfortunately crumbles in Hollywood and show business.

Have fun, folks while the song, the movie and Abhay’s dancing play in a continuous loop inside my head

Silence speaks

A song with great lyrics, a fantastic composition and fabulous soul stirring vocals with awesome on-screen histrionics is the guaranteed formula for immortality. That is what happened in the making of this amazing melody. I love everything about this song, and pretty much a lot about the movie. Adalat was a movie made by Kalidas, who also wrote the story. The germ was used nearly a decade later in the making of another classic movie Mamta (with Ashok Kumar and Suchitra Sen) by Asit Sen, the director.

A story of a woman (Nirmala- Nargis) who is in love with a wannabe lawyer Pradeep Kumar but a vile aunt who is inexplicably jealous of this seeks to get her married off to an uneducated villager. As a result Nargis runs away from home, enters a dancing school (sadly a euphemism for a brothel) which gets raided, she is arrested, found innocent in the trial and is freed. On returning home, she finds the taint makes her unwelcome and she is turned away again. The shock kills her mother. She is out on the streets, a potential victim to the predatory Pran (yet another unforgettable role that evokes revulsion and anger, it is amazing how a very gentle human being who was really very kind could don such a loathsome persona at will as Pran saheb did movie after movie after movie for decades), but meets Pradeep Kumar who marries her (in secret- I thought that was a big flaw in the storyline, they might have as well made it official), impregnates her and vamooses for his higher education. The poor lady despite being pregnant and helpless, is now expectedly turned away by his parents and finds herself on the street once again. She hands over her son to a kind lady, a Doctor, Achala Sachdev (in one of many such roles the lady enacted in her long career she was cut out for the part of the kind middle aged woman- motherly and saintly; just as Nirupa Roy was, cannot imagine either in a role displaying negative/ gray shades), and goes into the oldest profession. As luck would have it (and as Bollywood unfailingly conjures up) she gets involved in a murder, and who else but her son (who doesn’t at the time know her of course) to turn up as a Public Prosecutor to try her , that too in the very first case he gets after taking up the job…

Nargis looks a tad too old for the part as the younger version but is in her elements as the older lady.

The strongest suit in the pack fo cards that Adalat is undoubtedly the musical score. Songs that rise far above the ordinary and the mundane, and get etched permanently into our collective memory. This exquisite ghazal sums up the everlasting magic of the musical score, this song in particular speaks volumes more than simple words could ever do.

The ghazal is actually introduced early in the movie as an entry in a college Mushaira where Pradeep Kumar is the chief guest and the young Nargis is a participant. She recites, in her voice, Unko yeh shikayat hai ke hum kuchh nahi kehte (just the mukhada and the first two verses).

Needless to say, the ghazal and the lady leave an impact on Pradeep Kumar.

Years go by with the lovers being separated by circumstance. Age has caught up with both for signs of age are now visible in the lines on the faces and greying hair. Thus, many years later when Pran, the villainous pimp, who initially calls himself Pandit Kedarnath and later goes by the name Sharif Ahmed, brings the now aged, famous barrister Pradeep Kumar to this mehfil he is surprised to hear the same nazm being sung as he alights from his car. His surprise shows on his face and Pran’s expressions are amazing. No other human with such a kind heart (as I knew him personally to have been) could ever have have mastered the despicable villainy so successfully as Pran saheb.

The huge chandelier overhead rocks slowly as if on cue as Lata’s voice sharply raises the pitch with “Kuchh Kehne pe tufaan utha leti hai duniya”. The storm isn’t outside – it is raging within. The picturization of this line is beautifully done with Pradeep Kumar getting to see Nargis’s face for the first time and realising his own crime and neglect of the lady who he has professed his love for and married in secret. The facial expressions of both Pradeep Kumar as well as Nargis and the clear lechery on Pran’s face (as well his fake invocation of God for having his prey getting impressed by the bait on offer) are only too well captured. A gut wrenching sequence that does total justice to the emotional maelstrom going on in both protagonist’s minds.

Madan Mohan uses the raag Malgunji to create sublime magic. Malgunji itself is an interesting raag from Khamaj thaat, it is a very melodious raag similar to Raag Bageshree but it employs Shuddha Gandhar in Aaroh which makes it different from Bageshree. Malgunji also has some elements of Raag Khamaj. This Raag employs Shuddha Gandhar in Aaroh and Komal Gandhar in Avroha. Generally performed in the morning hours before noon, it has been used in the past by Rahul Dev Burman , in his very first (Bollywood debut) song that he recorded with Lata Mangeshkar for Chhote Nawab, Ghar Aa Jaa Ghir Aaye Badra Saanwariya….

Rajinder Krishan‘s ghazal is good enough to be a wonderful poem by itself. What can I say about Latadidi‘s singing for Madan Mohan that has not been said already by zillions of people before , even more eloquently. Individually the two were great enough, with guaranteed places in the pantheon of Bollywood, add Rajinder Krishan or a Raja Mehdi Ali Khan to the mix and you get pure magic. The two together have given us so many indescribably beautiful pieces of eternal quality, it would take someone a year to do justice to the quality. Madan Mohan picked a rarely used Raag Malgunji to bring this ghazal written by close friend and famed lyricist Rajinder Krishan to life full of poignancy. As was his wont, only he could show, as ever so much respect and restraint in the musical arrangement to allow the beauty of the words and the vocals to shine through.

उनको ये शिकायत है के हम कुछ नहीं कहते
अपनी तो ये आदत है के हम कुछ नहीं कहते

मजबूर बहुत करता है ये दिल तो ज़ुबां को
कुछ ऐसी ही हालत है के हम कुछ नहीं कहते
उनको ये शिकायत है…

कहने को बहुत कुछ था अगर कहने पे आते
दुनिया की इनायत है के हम कुछ नहीं कहते
उनको ये शिकायत है…

कुछ कहने पे तूफान उठा लेती है दुनिया
अब इसपे कयामत है के हम कुछ नहीं कहते
उनको ये शिकायत है…

Have a safe day and a wonderful weekend folks, stay away from the Wuhan Virus.

A precious relationship gone awry…

I first saw the movie on DD Mumbai’s Sunday evening film show. It remains one of the best movies I have seen in my life and would definitely figure in my personal top 20. So many of them were made by this genius, the best known alumnus of the Bimal Roy institution of film making, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, how I regret never having met the man in person in my life.

Anupama is about a delicate and precious relationship that has gone awry. What a cast! Tarun Bose, (to me the star of the movie and should be given Top Billing- What a fabulous yet unassuming actor he was! He would get under the skin of any role, no matter how small or apparently insignificant it might appear to be, and do a great job of bringing the character alive with all its warts, wrinkles and knobs…), Sharmila Tagore (in the eponymous role as his daughter), Surekha Pandit (as the short lived mother of the heroine who dies in childbirth – a chilling reminder to us how common Maternal Mortality was even in the mid 60s- the poor lady dies of complications of childbirth and Tarun Bose who is head over heels in love with her blames the newborn – a guilt that haunts the girl as well for a significant part of her life and makes her reticent and shy), Deven Verma, and Dharmendra. This was the breakthrough year for Garam Dharam, who was after this movie taken as a handsome hunk who could actually also act convincingly enough.

Little wonder then , Anupama starts off building on this apparently hopelessly fractured filial relationship.

I like Hrishikesh Mukherji‘s film making style primarily because of the genteel, literate manner in which he deals with all kinds of sensitive subjects with quiet understatements, almost muted observations that offer more nuanced insights into events and human relationships than loud, noisy, in-your-face statements. Nowhere is it more apparent than Anupama, which is about the emotionally complicated and mixed up emotional lives of the rich, without brash colour or superficial gloss. In that way his interpretation of stories and themes is so very different than the later filmmakers under the influence of a different, more materialistic and superficial thinking that was shown in the movie making of the last 30 years. I cannot imagine anyone handling this subject more sensitively bar a Gulzar.

Rajinder Singh Bedi‘s dialogues are truly brilliant and in sync with the tenor of the movie. Sharmila Tagore plays Uma, an introverted , extremely reticent and taciturn girl leading pretty much a cloistered existence (can’t call it a life, can one, poor child!) with her rich and dictatorial father, Tarun Bose ( Mohan Sharma ). The daughter has a very troubled and painful, rather dysfunctional relationship with her father who can’t disentangle the strands of love (implicit yet unexpressed) and resentment, even hatred (sadly very clearly manifest) that tie him to his only child.

Much against his own thoughts and convictions ( He is actually shown holding the infant and saying “Tera kasoor kya hai? Main tumse kyon nafrat karta hoon?“), the father sadly holds the daughter responsible for the death of the mother in childbirth. Tarun Bose is shown in an intense, loving relationship with his wife (Surekha Pandit) with the wonderful song Dheere dheere machal epitomising the overflowing and ever-present love. The way the two communicate with loving looks is pure goosebumps time in the song.

The child unfortunately is made to grow up with the heavy emotional baggage, nay burden of the unfair blame for the mother’s death and grows up with self-repression and self denial as her only defence against her father’s seething, ever-present anger bordering on hatred. The fact is that the father can bear to look at her only when he’s drunk, the Bacchanalian excesses inevitably take their toll on his health. Just when Uma’s match is being fixed up with a family friend’s son Deven Varma (he looks dashing and debonair), he has to move to Mahabaleshwar for recuperation and to regain his health- a sobering realization in the vast difference in film making is seen in the locales. So much natural beauty of Indian locations was shown in the shooting which was infinitely more artistic and effective in monochrome film, showcasing that unspoilt verdant beauty in a way that we would certainly have missed in our visits to the same places. Deven Verma now follows them to Mahabaleshwar. Along with Deven Verma comes his poor-yet-principled school teacher friend Dharmendra with his family. A contrasting happy easygoing father-daughter relationship is shown for what it ought to be Brahm Bharadwaj (one would see him so often in these paternal roles with a head full of silver white hair and rather enchanting smile) with his happy-go-lucky daughter Shashikala that marks a stark contrast to Tarun Bose’s tense, uneasy, complicated relationship with his daughter.

The musical score by Hemantada , one of my five favourite composers is sublime. Five songs, two by Lata Mangeshkar (Dheere dheere machal and this one, which has such minimal instrumentation to embellish Lata’s soft vocals that are expressed a bit breathlessly and touch our soul) , two frothy joyous numbers that Asha Bhosle sings (picturized on Shashikala who’s shown to be full of joie de vivre) – Bheegi bheegi fizaa and Kyun mujhe itni khushi de di, and a sombre Hemantada number (Ya di ki suno duniya waalon) . The wonderful, amazing lyrics are by Kaifi Azmi.

Hrishida dedicated the movie to his mentor Bimalda who passed away when the movie was being made. Bimalda’s influence is clearly seen in the making of this movie and I suspect it was a deliberate act on Hrishida’s part to acknowledge Bimalda’s tutelage. After all, Hrishida started life as Bimalda’s editor and later directorial assistant. Nowhere is this more evident than the scene from Shashikala’s birthday party that has Dharmendra sitting with Sharmila Tagore, consoling and comforting her, which always reminds me of the sequence from Bimal Roy’s Sujata which has a birthday party too with Tum jeeyo hazaaron saal and has Sunil Dutt similarly helping Nutan, who is also a very repressed and subjugated character, albeit for a different reason and has Tarun Bose too in a wonderful, more kindly role .

Dharmendra, the teacher, poet and writer understands Sharmila Tagore perfectly, and creates  Anupama, an eloquent literary reflection of her soul. He actually tells her “Meri Anupama aap hai” through Shashikala who acts as a matchmaker. Swinging between self- denial and self-assertion, Sharmila Tagore has to make the most important decision of her life, going against her father’s choice for groom (Deven Verma) and following her own heart to go along with Dharmendra. But reading his novel gives her the courage and spunk to do so. Hrishida’s masterful storytelling shows us the meaningful, very significant sequence, where Sharmila switches off her bedroom lights, gets out of bed, parts the curtains and greets the sun. It’s as though she has finally parted company with the grey miasma of doubt clouding her mind, stepping out of the darkness of denial for a lifetime and then defying her father, she leaves home to meet Dharmendra at the railway station. Hrishida’s mastery and skill in filmmaking and deft touch is shown in the coming to terms for not only the daughter; but also for the father. The heartbreaking last shot of the film shows him at the station tearfully watching her leave from behind a pillar, finally having made peace with his internal demons. She can’t see him hidden there, but the audience is party to the poetically expressed denouement.

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I leave you with a more contemporary revival of the song, the essential beauty of Hemantada’s fantastic interpretation is thankfully not disturbed too much by the newer version.

Have a safe weekend folks, stay happy and healthy, far from the Wuhan Virus…

A balm for the bruised soul

Ever since I got introduced to Jim Reeves, I found that his voice has this unique quality, not unlike Pandit Jasraj ji’s divine vocals (always starting any rendition with a Shlok from the scriptures) or Pandit Hariprasad ji’s flute recitals or some of Jagjit Singh’s vocal acts of worship or even Mehdi Hassan’s classical ghazals of bringing a sense of infinite calm to the mind whenever there is any turbulence that seeks to disturb the inner calmness. I always listen to Pandit Shivkumar Sharma’s energetic and amazing Santoor pieces for the energy they give me and awe they invoke due to his amazing and unique skills as well as mastery over a difficult instrument.

Out of the blue this song surfaced in my mind today morning.

It is a song that was actually first released by Roy Orbison, himself a name to reckon with, but didn’t quite get popular or the prominence it could have. Jim Reeves recorded this for its composer, Cindy Walker thinking it was for her private use and not for publication, the song and had earlier been surprisingly dismissed by both RCA the record company and Reeves’s constant ally, Chet Atkins ( who was himself a noted guitarist and record producer who had frequently worked with Reeves) as unsuitable for wider public release. Amazingly it was released with much simpler instrumentation. Serendipitiously, Jim Reeves died in his plane in the storm in 1964 and this gave a different fillip to the song. Following Reeves’ death, the same vocal track overdubbed with an orchestral backing was released to the public as the version that later shot up the music charts in both the United States and the UK. It stayed top of the US charts for a month and became #1 in UK beating many others including the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine in 1966. It turned out to be Reeves’ biggest posthumous success in the US and his only #1 Chart topper ever in the UK lists.

Inevitably because of the timing of the song’s publication (during the summer of 1966), “Distant Drums” drew parallels to the Vietnam War. On a background of an increased public awareness and opposition (both in the United Kingdom and the United States) of the difficult conditions faced by U.S. armed personnel fighting in that conflict. The antiwar movement was in full swing and public sympathy for the war- that the US had inherited from a French involvement and seemed to be going nowhere and extracting a heavy price in terms of the monetary costs and of lives of the personnel involved- was running thin at best. The opposition was getting much more vocal and the disenchantment with conscription and fighting wars with seemingly little gains running high. The lyrics imply the thoughts that a soldier expresses wanting to marry his beloved (called “Mary” in the song) before he answers the call of battle in some far away land; the “distant drums” of war are already sounding and beckoning him.

The lyrics and vocals do succeed in conveying the futility, helplessness of a soldier trying to desist the call to arms and the possible sad outcome.

I hear the sound of distant drums
Far away, far away
And if they call for me to come
Then I must go, and you must stay
So, Mary, marry me, let’s not wait
Let’s share all the time we can before it’s too late
Love me now, for now is all the time there may be
If you love me, Mary, Mary, marry me

I hear the sound of bugles blowing
Far away, far away
And if they call, then I must go
Across the sea, so wild and gray
So, Mary, marry me, let’s not wait
Or the distant drums might change our wedding day
Love me now, for now is all the time there may be
If you love me, Mary, Mary, marry me

Very simple, easy to follow lyrics, and clear melodious singing that was the hallmark of Reeves.

I am sure the same feelings must have been invoked in the hearts and minds of the COVID warriors when called to duty.

Stay safe, stay healthy folks. I will rush to work while the song plays in a loop in my head